Start this activity by talking to students about the permission slips in a way that they are already familiar with, such as permission slips that their parents have to sign for field trips or media releases, or notes that are written to excuse them from class, etc. Explain that permission slips are ultimately a way for an authority figure, such as a parent or teacher, to allow students to do something that they otherwise would not be able to do. Without those permission slips, students might miss out on an experience, or only have access to a modified version of an activity.
Then, ask students to think about permission slips in a new way. Tell students that, today, they will be giving themselves the permission to either start or more fully engage with things that feel scary or uncomfortable in their life. By doing so, you are asking students to become an ‘authority figure’ in their own lives. Students should be able to recognize that this activity forces them to take responsibility for their behaviour and to recognize their ability to decide how they want to “show-up” in the world.
To help students understand what you mean, share a personal story about a time when you used a permission slip or when using a permission slip would have been helpful. Alternatively, you can share this fictional example, which Brené Brown uses:
“[Jordan] was going to a party where there would be a lot of people that [he] didn’t know. [He] gave himself permission to talk to people, but also to walk away if [he] needed some time alone. Before going to the party, [Jordan] wrote a note and stuck it in [his] pocket. The note said, ‘I give myself permission to talk to at least two people that I’ve never met and to walk away from the crowd for a few minutes if I’m feeling overwhelmed.’ [Jordan] looked at the note before [he] went into the party and [he] looked at it a couple of times during the party when [he] was feeling uncomfortable.”
Use your own example or Jordan’s example to highlight a couple of important points that students need to be aware of:
- Permission slips almost always involve being brave and afraid at the same time. In the fictional example, Jordan was scared about the number of people at the party and the fact that he wouldn’t know many of them. By acknowledging his fear and creating space for himself to manage the fear (ex. walk away from the crowd for a few minutes if he is feeling overwhelmed), Jordan gave himself permission to feel scared. However, Jordan was also brave in his decision to attend the party and in setting an explicit intention of talking to at least two new people.
Explain that it is natural to feel scared and brave at the same time. In fact, if you were not scared, then you wouldn’t have to be brave.
- Permission slips should only ever be used to move towards engagement and connection or to behave in ways that align with your values. To illustrate this point, you can share another fictional example:
Sandy struggles with class discussions because she doesn’t like talking in front of people. She is always scared that she will say the wrong thing or that she will be called on before she has the opportunity to collect her thoughts and think of an answer. It would be unacceptable if Sandy wrote herself a note that said, “I give myself permission to not participate in the classroom discussion”. Instead, it would be helpful if Sandy wrote “I give myself permission to collect my thoughts before speaking”, “I give myself permission to ask the teacher to let someone else go ahead of me so that I have a few extra minutes to think of my answer”, or even “I give myself permission to tell others that I am feeling nervous”.
- Writing a permission slip is only the beginning. Remind students that when their parents sign a permission slip, they are still responsible for handing the permission slip over and for actually participating in the activity. It doesn’t matter if students’ parents signed the permission slip if they don’t hand it in.
Relate this back to today’s activity by telling students that it is also not enough to simply write a permission slip. Students need to hold themselves accountable to the intentions they are setting by continually revisiting and reminding themselves of them. Let students know that, throughout the day, they will have many opportunities to decide to hand in their permission slips (i.e. to act according to their intentions).
Highlight the fact that this is a decision that students need to make. They have the choice to translate intention into action.
Once you have explained the concept of permission slips, give students five minutes to write themselves a permission slip related to how they will behave at school for the rest of the day.
The Single Use Permission Slip Template is available in the download section of this page.
Finally, wrap-up this activity with a 10-minute class discussion. Ask students if anyone would like to share what they wrote on their permission slip. If they feel comfortable, students can also talk about why they wrote that permission slip.
After students have had the opportunity to share, prompt engagement by asking students the following questions:
- When you listened to other students’ permissions, were there any that you could relate to?
- Are there any permissions that you would like to add to your own permission slip?
- How can we help each other hand-in our permission slips?
End the discussion by referring back to the chart that students made in the warm-up activity. In this activity, students identified barriers to engaging in certain activities as well as what they might need from themselves or others to start fulfilling their goals. Ask students if they would find it helpful to use permission slips in these situations. If so, how would permission slips help? If not, why not? What are specific situations where it would be helpful to use permission slips?
If you or your students find value in this activity, try setting aside five minutes each morning for students to set intentions for that day. This is a great way for students to build awareness, become more mindful, and set goals for personal growth. Students can use their planners as a safe space to write down daily intentions or, you can download and use our weekly permission slip template, which has five permission slips on a single page.
The Weekly Permission Slip Template is available in the download section of this page.
Students may share permissions that are not appropriate
Sometimes students may share a permission slip that is not appropriate because it either moves them away from engagement and connection or because it does not align with their personal or with the class values. Three of the most common inappropriate applications of permission slips are described below:
- Students may actively give themselves permission to disengage (ex. permission to not participate in the class discussion or permission to sleep through the class)
Remind students that permission slips can only be used to move towards their values and that they are intended to increase engagement and connection. Although they may want permission to disengage, students have a responsibility to participate. Work with the student to identify the underlying emotions that guided this permission slip and help them set a more appropriate intention. For example, a student who gave themselves permission to not participate in the class discussion might be scared of saying the wrong thing. A more helpful intention that would involve embracing vulnerability and choosing courage might be:
Permission to share my opinion when I have something to say.
Permission to collect my thoughts before speaking.
Permission to make mistakes when I am learning new things.
Permission to tell others that I do not know the answer and to ask for help.
- Students may explicitly give themselves permission to not live into their values (ex. permission to choose what is easy over what is right when I am exhausted)
Students who write this kind of a permission slip often have good intentions: They are giving themselves permission to take a break and to choose self-care. However, genuine self-care will never involve a behaviour that is inconsistent with your core values. Choosing ‘the easy route’ almost always leads to inauthenticity, regret, and/or guilt, which becomes more exhausting and debilitating over time than making the difficult decision to live into your values. Explain these ideas to students and then help them reframe their permission slip. A more constructive intention might sound like any of the following statements:
Permission to take a couple of minutes to myself to collect my thoughts when I am feeling overwhelmed.
Permission to ask for help and receive support when I am feeling alone or scared.
Permission to set boundaries for the time and energy that I can invest in relationships/activities/thoughts.
Permission to revisit a problem/question/challenge tomorrow when I feel more prepared and to communicate this intention .
- Students may give themselves permission to act in a way that results in disconnection (ex. permission to be mean or permission to break rules)
When this happens, Brené Brown encourages teachers to “use gentle guidance to explain that these permissions aren’t in line with the purpose of the exercise”. If the student shares this permission slip with the class, then it can be helpful to address the statement with a class conversation. Ask the other students to share their reaction to hearing this permission slip or to talk about how the permission slip made them feel. If students are not sharing their thoughts and feelings, you can stimulate conversation by sharing something yourself. For example, Brené suggests that you could say, “When I heard Dylan’s permission, I worried that someone might feel hurt if he was mean to them. Did anyone else have a similar reaction?” Try to focus the conversation around your class values. Alternatively, if the student does not share the permission slip but you become aware of it through alternative means, ask to speak with the student one-on-one after class so that they do not feel singled out.
What if my permission slip involves another person?
You might write a permission slip that involves another person and that is okay. For example, if you feel overwhelmed with the number of things that you need to get done and you have a family function tonight, you can give yourself permission to ask your parents to only attend part of the family function so that you have more time to finish your work. However, your parents do not have to agree. You can only control your actions and sometimes the other person is not willing or not able to accept your request. Nevertheless, it’s okay for you to give yourself permission to ask a question. In fact, sometimes asking the question is what takes the most courage.
What if I am not able to act in the way that I intended?
That’s okay. Permission slips are for setting intentions and they help us be mindful of our actions but there are no repercussions or punishments if you fail to deliver. If this happens then make sure you take some time to think about why you were unable to follow-through so that you can make necessary changes before trying again. You might find it helpful to answer the following questions:
- Why was I unable to hand in my permission slip (i.e. act in the way that I intended)?
- What were the barriers that prevented me from showing up the way that I wanted to?
- What emotions was I feeling in the moment?
- What would I have needed to be successful? How can I make sure that I have what I need before trying again?
- Who might have been able to support me?
- Was this the right intention? Is there something that might be more important or necessary for me to address before I come back to this one?